In Limo Land, drivers swerve away from fiscal cliff

By Mike M. AhlersUpdated 22nd January 2013
Taking a limo just might cost you.
For the swarms of limousines headed to the Obama inauguration, the toll to enter Washington just got a lot cheaper.
The District of Columbia Taxicab Commission on Friday scuttled plans to require each out-of-town limo to obtain a $500 permit, lowering it to $150.
The $500 permit plan sparked outrage among many limo companies, some of whom said they already signed contracts with customers assuming a $125 fee -- the price of a permit during the last inaugural.
Informed of the $500 fee two weeks ago, limo companies had a common reaction: The government was taking them for a ride.
"I'm speechless," said Ellen Schoengold, a manager of a nine-vehicle limo service in suburban Washington. "That's over the top. That's stiff. That's very stiff."
"I'm not shocked by anything that they will do," said the owner of another limousine service. "They ... have no idea what they are doing." He asked that he not be named, fearing retaliation.
But on Friday, limo operators said they were happy at the commission's reversal.
"I think that's fair," Schoengold said of the $150 permit fee. "Obviously they must have listened to people's complaints about it."
The commission says the $150 permit will be good for a four-day period flanking the January 21 inauguration. The earlier $500 permit was for 30 to 45 days, but limo companies said that did not serve their needs.
Approximately 10,000 limousines and other vehicles for hire obtained permits during the 2009 inaugural, generating about $1.2 million, the taxicab commission said.
Commission spokesman Neville Waters said the commission changed its mind after "input from the marketplace."
"It was a dynamic process," he said.
Richard Kane, whose Kane International Limousine Service is among Washington's largest limo companies, was happy with the resolution.
"I think it's great. It's fantastic. I think they listened to what we were concerned with and they adjusted their program accordingly."
Kane said his business would have been stung by the $500 fee even though it is located in Washington, because it needs to obtain permits for several dozen vehicles it rents to supplement its fleet.